The chart below contains some sabermetric stats for each full season that Alex Rodriguez has played in the major leagues:
Year R_OPS wOBA RCAA/PA OWP
1996 1.024 .444 .108 .755
1997 .773 .374 .027 .580
1998 1.022 .399 .057 .660
1999 .968 .397 .042 .614
2000 1.135 .433 .109 .770
2001 .927 .428 .098 .749
2002 .927 .424 .080 .705
2003 .961 .420 .074 .697
2004 .921 .385 .050 .654
2005 .951 .438 .116 .787
2006 .860 .391 .053 .663
2007 1.101 .449 .116 .780
2008 .885 .413 .074 .706
Thanks to FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia for the numbers.
And, here’s what each of these stats are:
R_OPS: This “OPS” (On Base Average plus Slugging Percentage) in road games. (I thought it would be interesting to see the road split as a way to take home park factors out of the picture for a moment.)
wOBA: This is Weighted On Base Average. It’s a statistic developed by Tom Tango. It uses linear weights on certain batting events to come up with a metric that is more statistically sound than OPS and is scaled onto an OBP scale. According to Tango “An average hitter is around 0.340 or so, a great hitter is 0.400 or higher, and a poor hitter would be under 0.300.” (I included this stat in the comparison because it’s among the newer toys in the sabermetric playground.)
RCAA/PA: This is “Runs Created Above Average” per Plate Appearance. RCAA is the difference between a player’s Runs Created total and the total for an average player who used the same amount of his team’s outs. (I used RCAA since I’m a fan of this statistic – and I divided it by PA to turn it into a rate stat.)
OWP: This is Offensive Winning Percentage. It’s a Bill James stat that projects what a team’s winning percentage would be if each offensive player was cloned to that player and the team had an average pitching staff. (Another one of my favorites – it’s a baby of Bill James and, like RCAA, it takes into account the league context.)
Now, let’s take all these numbers and put them into a semi-pretty line-chart:
Click on the line-chart to enlarge the image.
The line-chart paints an interesting picture in terms of Alex Rodriguez’ production rates since he’s been a full-time big leaguer.
In 1996, his first full major league season, A-Rod was a force with the bat. But, he had a pretty steep decline in 1997 (from the previous year). The following two seasons (1998 and 1999) were better – but not near his levels in 1996 (for the most part).
However, in 2000, his last season in Seattle before becoming a free agent, A-Rod got his production back up to where it was in 1996 (or thereabouts). Afterwards, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, he maintained a high level of performance (for him) for three years.
Then, in 2004, A-Rod had another dip on his trend-lines (in the chart). This was followed by a spike in 2005, and then a dip in 2006, a huge spike in 2007, and another dip in 2008.
O.K. – these are all stats. So, they’re facts. Now, here comes some speculation with respect to the trend-lines these numbers have derived for us. And, my new theory on what Alex has been up to the last 13 seasons.
Rodriguez exploded on to the scene in 1996 and then the league caught up to him, as is the natural course of things in baseball, the following season. In his third full season, 1998, A-Rod rebounded and started to build a nice upward trend in his relative offensive production rates – hitting the roof in 2000. It’s significant to note that, according to reports, the late 1990′s was when Alex was BFF with notorious PED user Jose Canseco.
Rodriguez continued his very high levels of relative offensive production during the period 2001 through 2003. It’s significant to note that, according to A-Rod’s recent confession, Alex was using PEDs during this time period.
Rodriguez’ offensive production dropped in 2004 – compared to where he had been the four years prior. It’s significant to note that 2004 was the year after Alex failed a PED test (as we have now learned). Further, in June of 2004, baseball began drug testing Major League players under the punitive phase of baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement. A-Rod’s 2004 season was probably his third worst offensive output, at that time, in his big league career.
Coming off a very rough season, and a disaster of a LCS for his team (in 2004), Rodriguez came back in 2005 and posted very high numbers in terms of his relative offensive production.
However, the next season, 2006, was much more like his 2004 season (than his 2005 season). It’s significant to note that, prior to the 2006 season, in November 2005, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached agreement that significantly strengthened penalties for steroid and other illegal drug use. Penalties for steroid use would now be 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. The plan also includes testing and suspensions for amphetamine use. Further, prior to the 2006 sesaon, A-Rod played in the World Baseball Classic (in March of 2006) – and was required to take a blood test for PED use prior to those games.
In 2007, Rodriguez had an incredible season with the bat. This was also the “opt-out” season in his contract which allowed him to become a free agent at the end of the year. It’s significant to note that, reportedly, A-Rod spent most of the 2007 season in the company of Angel Presinal – a known PED pusher.
And, finally, in 2008, Rodriguez’ numbers declined – as the line-chart shows – coming closer to where they were in 2004 and 2006. It’s significant to note that 2008 was the first year of a mega-contract that A-Rod had signed with the Yankees. And, the season was preceded by a six to seven month period where major league baseball players were being found guilty of PED usage (in large numbers) – via various methods such as testing positive, pharmacy raids, etc.
Tying this all up, based on the numbers and what off-the-field activities that we know to be true, or are strongly reported to be true, it would not shock me if the A-Rod story, in reality, broke-down as follows:
Rodriguez started messing around with PEDs in the late 1990′s, as a member of the Seattle Mariners, while he was a friend of Jose Canseco. Then, when he moved on to the Texas Rangers, Alex used PEDs the three seasons he was there. As a result of failing a PED test in 2003, A-Rod was “clean” in 2004. However, due to a nightmare season (for him and his team) that season, Rodriguez returned to his habit (that he probably developed in Seattle and used in Texas) and used PEDs in 2005.
As a result of the stronger PED policy in baseball, and the tests required for the World Baseball Classic, Rodriguez went clean again in 2006. However, because of the importance of putting up huge numbers in 2007 – as it was his opt-out year – with the assistance of Angel Presinal, Alex used PEDs in 2007.
And, finally, with his new monster-contract secured, and because of all the PED-related heat on baseball players being turned up in the months before the 2008 season, A-Rod played last season without the use of PEDs.
So, in summary, if we were to find out (someday) that Alex Rodriguez used PEDs during eight of his first thirteen full major league seasons, I would just say “That’s what I figured.” After all, that’s my A-Rod theory, newly formed.